Chance Encounter

I’ve neglected this blog, the reasons for that being legion, but the primary reason being that we’ve moved, but I’ve continued the habit of picking up after litterbugs.

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It’s ingrained.

Now that we’ve settled in, I’ve selected my own personal ‘adopt a spot’ litter location, across the street from the new home.  People like to park there at night, and there’s the usual selection of empty beer bottles and cans,

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energy drink cans and convenience food packaging,

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cigarette butts and packaging,

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baggies, candy wrappers and miniature liquor bottles.

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Y’know, judging by the litter on our roadsides, we’re a selfish and decadent society.

The spot’s looking cleaner already and pretty soon I’ll have to forage further afield to find filth.  But today, I had gardening on the agenda and that task led to a meeting with a fellow traveler, the second such meeting I’ve had since we relocated.  As follows:

I was driving out to the town compost facility this morning and what do I see?  A lady with a pick stick in one hand, and a repurposed grocery store bag in the other, working her way through some litter alongside the railroad right of way.  I couldn’t help myself.  I pulled over and said hello.  And when I thanked her for what she was doing, she said something like: “Well, we live right here, and I get tired of looking at the mess so it’s not much more effort to pick it up as it is to look at it.”

Yep.  That about sums it up. I told her that I do the same thing, and I mentioned the possibility of having an organized cleanup in the area.  While the lady was polite, I didn’t get the feeling that she was immediately interested.  I said nice to meet you and drove off to continue what I’d been doing.

I’m thinking of starting a little facebook page to network with other residents of the area – to organize a bit, and do some cleanups.  I think I’ll draw a good number of interested people, and in any case a number of good and interesting people.  We could do ‘flash’ cleanups – just descend on a spot and clean it and leave.  There are quite a few retirees around here who might just be willing.

Meanwhile, I’m scouting equipment

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and continuing to take pictures of roadside litter.  Perhaps in search of those elusive grocery store plastic bags that people want to ban so much.  Wait, here’s one…er, forget it.  Just another smiley bag.

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Not seeing them.  Are you?  Maybe it’s time for another post on that topic.

Brook Street Litter

Upland freshwater marsh, a stream, a pond, woods and one macadam road running through it.  Everyone in town knows the Brook Street Preserve.  At first glance, it looks idyllic, beautiful even, and it is.

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Freshwater pond in the rain
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West branch of the Orowoc Creek, from Brook Street looking north, upstream

You have to slow down and look a little closer before you see the mess.

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‘Out the window’ litter, mostly

As with any out-of-the-way wooded area in a busy suburb, the Suffolk County owned Brook Street preserve is a litter magnet.

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A neighbor placed this convenient trash can at an entrance to the preserve.

It requires constant attention to keep clean. Brook Street has been the focus of Keep Islip Clean sponsored cleanup efforts for decades. Year in and year out, Spring and Fall, the cleanups continue.  The Middle School ‘KIC’ team is the sponsor. There are lots of volunteers, official and unofficial. I pick at it throughout the year.

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The king of discarded emptys

 

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Convenient hip-pocket sized vodka doser

 

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Done with that? Out the window.

 

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Black plastic bags are the mobile drinkers choice

 

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One of many plastic bags tangled in the brambles

 

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Huh?

 

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Glass shards litter the overpass above the Orowoc Creek

 

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Plastic bottle, bowling ball (?) and some oranges litter the stream bed of the West Orowoc, south of Brook Street. It’ll require a volunteer or two with hip waders to get to this spot. That should be fun.

The cleanup date is April 18th, a Saturday, and I’m planning to join in.  I’m also trying to drum up some more volunteers from the neighborhood to show up.  This is not an easy thing to do, since Saturday mornings are busy times for all of us. But there are always the few reliable volunteers who come out for most of the cleanups, and you often get a neighbor or two who pop in to help.  There are seldom a huge group of volunteers showing up, but in my experience there are always enough.

Slainte?

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The Hump

Or midpoint of any project is a good time to review.  I envisioned this project as a ‘season’, not forever, so I took this late March evening to read my own blog entries.  How embarrassed am I? Well, a little. It seems that, like most projects, this one started out pretty ambitiously and seems to have run somewhat aground. Here’s what I envisioned:

-Picking up lots of litter around my immediate neighborhood.

-Taking photos of it.

-Measuring, weighing and cataloging it.

-Blogging about it.

Noble goals, I know, but I have fallen short.  The photographing and cataloging part has gone completely ‘out the window’, as it were. I’ve managed to keep picking up litter and blogging it. Perhaps the rest is fluff anyhow.

As I mentioned in another post, nobody wants to look at pictures of litter: pictures of litter are gross. Yes, they could help electrify and motivate people to do something about litter, but this isn’t a shock blog, and that’s not something that I want to overdo.  The pictures will continue (with restraint), but no gross-outs. Sadly, if you want to look at garbage these days, you can visit almost any art gallery.

As for the tally sheets, I lost the will to keep tallying the same stuff every time I do some cleaning up.  It’s always the same crap, everyone knows what’s out there, and there’s little real need for the data. It became: collect, bag up, bring home, weigh, dump out, measure, photograph, catalog, pick-up, rebag, dispose of; too much toil. Anyway, What it is right now is me toting the pickup stick while walking the neighborhood, dog in tow, and ‘picking it up’.  Keeping it real I guess you could say, and that’s what counts.

As for this being the midpoint, yes, I’m going somewhere with that. The Month of April is The Great American Cleanup (it’s like the litter-picker’s holy month), there are cleanups ALL month, everywhere. I spent two hours at the office of Keep Islip Clean last week stuffing envelopes. The word is going out far and wide across the town (and the Nation and I suppose the whole planet) to gear up and get ready. The big push is coming, volunteers will work to banish the detritus of a bitter Winter.  I’ll blog some of it, from my point of view.

‘Clamming’?

Some would call what I do a form of ‘land clamming’, and me a ‘land clammer’, but it’s not and I’m not.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

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A land clammer, in the colloquial, is a derogatory term for someone who travels around picking the valuable empties from the recycling cans and from the roadside.  I hate the term, because it insults people who are engaged in productive work.  I think it sneers, so I think that I’ll call them deposit harvesters instead at least until something more appropriate occurs to me.

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What I do, first and foremost, is, of course, pick up and properly dispose of, litter. And in the course of cleaning up my neighborhood I come across empties: beer cans mostly, usually on the weekends, as I have discussed. Much of the time, when I recover the odd empty, it just goes into the nearest trash can.  It’s just not worth the effort (picking up, carrying home, sorting from the rest of the trash, putting in the recycling can, taking to the redemption center, cashing in the chit) for ten cents a can or bottle: but weekends can be lucrative.  Weekends are different.

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Saturday Morning

On the weekends, people throw lots of empty beer cans out the car window. Sometimes people sit in their cars on a back street and knock back a whole case of beer at one time.  Out the window it goes, one at a time or all at once, carton and all.  These people are known as drunk drivers, usually, and as such they are criminals much to be despised. They can’t compare in virtue to the humble and productive deposit harvesters.

On the weekend, I make sure to bring the pick-stick along, and some repurposed bags, and I collect the cans. What must the neighbors think?: land clammer (deposit harvester!).  I’ve never cared.  If it were true, I’d be proud of it.

We used to have visits from one particular deposit harvester, locally.  He pushed a shopping cart down the street in the middle of the night, tossing through everyone’s recycling can every other week looking for deposits to cash in.  It got annoying because of the racket. The noise from the shopping cart wheels was like the introductory symbol solo from a bad rock song.  With a refrain like a washing machine full of clinking and  clanking tin cans, he’d fish through the recycling cans, one by one, working his way down the block.  It used to wake up dogs throughout the neighborhood and annoy the shit out of everyone.  This at four am.  Every two weeks.

It got so annoying during the warmer months that action was required.  What I did was, drum roll, wait for it – I started cashing in my own empties.  I know, it’s not something that many people relish doing.  I sure didn’t, I had other things to do.  But I started taking the empties to the supermarket and feeding the machines and recovering the paltry sums, mostly to discourage our nocturnal visitor.  That damn shopping cart was driving me insane.

I think the neighbors did the same thing, or else they just started throwing their empties into the regular trash to throw him off the scent, because after a while – the brass band went away.  He disappeared.  I suppose that once we took away the cost-benefit, he started skipping our street.  Or he died or moved away or found a better paying line of work: it’s hard to be certain.  I felt a little guilty about that, but we all need our sleep.

I’m not a land clammer/deposit harvester, I’m more like a deposit grazer.  I pick up what comes my way in the treadmill course of my daily block-circling dog walk.   On the weekends, the proceeds come home and get added to the recycling and yes, I recover the cash for this.  In a good week, we’re talking less than a buck.  Which I donate. I don’t do this for the money: it’s civics.

The Banality of Litter: Promoting Civic Activism

Some litter is probably inadvertent.

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Other litter is casual,

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Drivers who drink discard the empties, eliminating the evidence

 

or just the result of bad weather and bad timing.

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Weekly ‘free’ coupon papers, buried in slush and frozen solid

 

But the bare fact of litter is that it’s all very basic and human: it’s banal.

If the annals of litter were ever written, they would probably describe the occasional litter kingpin (a contractor no doubt), who would roam the night streets looking for a good spot to offload the days demolition: but the real serial litterer is a much more ordinary person.  In the end, it’s mostly carelessness, expediency, laziness and inadvertence that contribute to litter.  The litterbug, if we were to paint a picture of him or her, is very ordinary; he drinks Budweiser from a can,

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enjoys coffee from 7-11 and Dunkin Donuts,

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likes those caffeinated energy drinks,

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and eats a lot of drive through fast food.

Taco Bell!

He (and she) leaves the coupon weekly at the curb, likely because he’s not a clipper.

This Week! (every week)

He fills the recycling can to overflowing,

Overloaded Recycling can

and doesn’t take the time to tidy up after the bulk collectors take away the wreckage from that kitchen demolition.

Construction Debris

All of which can add up to a pretty untidy community.  Unless someone like me picks it up.

My ‘habit’ of picking up litter makes a lot of difference in how the area looks.  I take pride in this, it is a civic good.  But if I were to stop cleaning up, the tidiness of the neighborhood would quickly deteriorate.  I’m only one person and I’ll be gone one of these days.  I’m not alone; other people pick up litter, particularly at organized cleanup events.  But I hope to inspire another person or two to start picking up litter as a habit – to take some day-to-day ownership of the neighborhood.

This is not an activity that comes naturally.  Most adults wouldn’t readily pick up trash by the curb because it’s not something that we’ve been taught to do.  It’s an oversight, really, in our civic upbringing. We didn’t learn this, most of us, in school and in the home – and that needs to be addressed.  And it is being addressed.  Most children are learning this type of civic behavior, this community responsibility, in school these days.  That’s what this is all about in the end, promoting a sense of community, a sense of shared responsibility for our own little patch of the world.

I actually see a glimmer increased community mindedness among the adult residents of the area.  This could be because I’m noticing more, because I’m looking for it.  But maybe not.  Maybe people are taking more ownership because of the example that is being set by civic beautification organizations like Keep Islip Clean, now twenty-five years old, and by the visible results of the cleanup efforts sponsored by them, by the grass roots cleanups that neighbors put together each Spring and Fall.

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One neighbor plows the street with his truck even though he’s not contracted to do that by the town.  Another neighbor rakes and sweeps the elderly persons curb and street area. Someone finally picks up a load of trash that got washed into the dead end by the epic rainstorms last summer.  Flowers get planted in a public space.  People start looking out for each other a little more.

On the other hand, some of the neighbors behave in ways that don’t help. Whether it’s the garbage can that’s left on the curb all the time and never brought back in, or the commercial business vehicle stored in the driveway, the unkempt rental property or the house with a car parked on the lawn – there are behaviors that detract from the beauty of the area.

Short of complaining to the town authorities, there’s nothing much that a resident can do about these sort of eyesores.  Official complaints really ought to be a last resort because it’s not worth starting trouble over minor issues.  In the end, the best offense is a good defense.  Being a steward of the neighborhood, building a sense of community, leading by example.